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Natural Resources Conservation Service
The Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) is a federal agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Originally established by Congress in 1935 as the Soil Conservation Service to combat "the wastage of soil and moisture resources on farm, grazing, and forest lands . . . “, the NRCS has expanded to work with landowners through conservation planning and financial assistance designed to help them conserve, maintain and improve their natural resources. The Agency emphasizes voluntary, science-based conservation; technical assistance; partnerships; incentive-based programs; and cooperative problem solving at the community level. [The NRCS contributes to conservation assistance through millions of dollars to conservation assistance through their various financial assistance programs and conservation planning efforts].
As a part of this mission the NRCS engages in cultural resource management (Read more here) with the landowner, state and tribal offices, and local entities. Many NRCS activities constitute undertakings under the definition in 36 CFR § 800.16(y) of the regulations implementing Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, “Protection of Historic Properties” (36 CFR Part 800). NRCS works closely through its assistance programs with landowners, state and tribal offices, and industry partners to assess the potential effects of its undertakings on historic properties. The fundamental elements of NRCS cultural resources policy involve protection and enhancement of cultural resources and historic properties in their original location to the fullest practical extent, and mitigation of adverse effects that cannot be avoided through treatment of the historic properties.
Refer to the links below for further guidance and instruction on the agency’s compliance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.
For assistance please contact the NRCS’ Federal Preservation Officer:
Dana R. Vaillancourt
National Cultural Resources Specialist/FPO
USDA - Natural Resources Conservation Service
Ecological Sciences Division
1400 Independence Avenue SW
P.O. Box 2890
Washington, DC 20013-2890
202-720-4912 (Office phone)
202-695-0504 (Cell phone)
Prototype Programmatic Agreement Developments —Since the authorization of the NRCS’ Prototype Programmatic Agreement (PPA) by the ACHP in November of 2014 the NRCS has completed PPAs with 21 states, one American territory, and four with Indian tribes. The NRCS is actively pursuing completion of agreements with all states, territories and Indian tribes where implementation of the PPA will result in benefits to NRCS grant and technical assistance applicants and for the cultural resources involved in the Section 106 review.
Currently the NRCS and their partners have recognized that the benefits of the PPA include: reduced paperwork production and transmission, focused cultural resource inventory reviews leading to increased identification and protection efforts, expedited grant application and technical assistance reviews, and better working relationships with Indian tribes and states.
If you are an Indian tribe, state or American territory and are interested in developing a PPA with the NRCS as part of the Section 106 process, contact the NRCS Federal Preservation Officer (FPO) for more information.
Tribal Agreement Developments — The NRCS is active in pursuing agreements with Indian tribes that benefit both parties. In addition to the PPA, the NRCS is actively engaging in the development of Consultation Protocols and Statements of Work (SOW) with Indian tribes to further the Section 106 process in a mutually beneficial manner.
Currently the Poarch Creek Indian Tribe is pursuing signature for a consultation protocol agreement with the Alabama-NRCS. This agreement will formalize a longstanding relationship and builds on prior agreements between the Poarch and NRCS. Drawing its authorization from 36 CFR §800.2(c)(2)(ii)(E), the consultation protocol has identified the key contacts, consultation procedures, circumstances that warrant consultation, and recognizes the special expertise of the Poarch in certain circumstances. Over the next eight years the Poarch and NRCS can draw from this agreement as a mutually acceptable document for communication, coordination and cultural resource protection.
National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers (NATHPO) conference — NRCS staff presented at the annual NATHPO meeting in Ignacio, CO from August 29 through September 2. The staff updated Indian tribes on the progress of the Tribal Ancestral Lands Consultation (TALC) guidance document being developed jointly between the NRCS, ACHP, and NATHPO. NRCS staff was available after the meeting and throughout the conference to meet with Indian tribes, discuss concerns, and serve as a sounding board for future collaboration opportunities.
See the Tribal Ancestral Lands Consultation (TALC) Workgroup heading below for more information and for links to the draft Handbook, the NATHPO presentation, and a comment sheet.
NRCS/ACHP PARTNERSHIP FOR COMPLIANCE AND DEVELOPMENT
Since 2009, the Natural Resources Conservation Service has partnered with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) to support dedicated assistance in Section 106 program innovations and greater efficiencies in program implementation. This partnership has facilitated work to develop a new NRCS nationwide program alternative, targeted training, and relevant guidance documents and templates for compliance correspondence.
Beginning in May 2011, the NRCS partnered with the ACHP to support a full time senior staff position at the ACHP to serve as the principal point of contact for handling NRCS program and project review. The position is within the Office of Federal Agency Programs (OFAP) at the ACHP. In addition to assisting NRCS in completing Section 106 review, the ACHP’s liaison works with NRCS headquarters to develop and implement national policy and programs with the potential to affect historic properties. The partnership between NRCS and the ACHP has had many benefits, and has resulted in:
- Focused assistance on the development of Prototype Programmatic Agreements for states, Indian tribes and American territories;
- Focused assistance on the development of consultation protocols and other agreements documents in accordance with 36 CFR §800.2(c)(2)(ii)(E);
- Tracking patterns and trends in Section 106 compliance on NRCS undertakings and the development and implementation of State Level Agreements;
- Dedicated assistance in early coordination for Section 106 compliance;
- Technical assistance in improving consultation with SHPOs, THPOs, Indian tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations;
- Assisting with the development of Tribal Ancestral Lands Consultation guidance in relation to sites of religious and cultural significance to Indian tribes;
- Guidance on meeting the reasonable and good faith standard as required by the Section 106 regulations;
- Guidance on coordinating Section 106 compliance with the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act; and
- Assistance in meeting Section 106 requirements during emergency and disaster planning.
If the ACHP can be of any assistance to you please contact:
Ms. Kristen J. Bastis
Advisory Council on Historic Preservation
Office of Federal Agency Programs
Program Analyst & Liaison to the NRCS
PROTOTYPE PROGRAMMATIC AGREEMENT (PPA)
The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation has designated a Prototype Programmatic Agreement (PPA) for the use of the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Prototype Programmatic Agreements (prototype agreements) are a type of program alternative that the ACHP can designate to assist federal agencies in their efforts to comply with the requirements of Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (16 U.S.C. § 470f) and its implementing regulations (36 CFR Part 800). Prototype agreements may be used for the same type of program or undertaking in more than one case or area, and typically establish efficiencies and protocols for implementing these undertakings. The ACHP's guidance letter, as well as the Prototype PA can be found here.
Under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), federal agencies must consider the effect of their undertakings upon historic properties. NRCS, in coordination with the ACHP has developed an innovative approach that gives states and stakeholders more predictability in how they take into account the effects of their programs on historic properties while carrying out the important NRCS work that provides assistance to farmers and landowners throughout the United States.
When a federal agency uses a Prototype PA, the agency may develop and execute subsequent agreements with the appropriate State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) and/or Tribal Historic Preservation Officer (THPO) without the need for ACHP participation in consultation or execution of the agreement. This program alternative will allow NRCS to ensure that consistent measures to address the impacts of its programs on historic properties are applied in each agreement negotiated pursuant to the PA while allowing individual agreements to be tailored to conditions in each state.
This Prototype PA has been approved subject to the November 14, 2014 authorization letter. In order to assist stakeholders in using the Prototype PA, the ACHP has developed a frequently asked questions document.
Additional information relevant to this effort is presented below.
A listing of current NRCS Prototype Programmatic Agreements is below.
The NHPA’s implementing regulations at 36 CFR Part 800.2(c)(2)(ii)(E) allow an Indian tribe or a Native Hawaiian organization (NHO) to enter into an agreement with an agency official that specifies how they will carry out their consultation responsibilities. These agreements can cover all aspects of tribal participation in the section 106 process and may grant the Indian tribe or Native Hawaiian organization additional rights to participate or concur in agency decisions in the section 106 process.
The NRCS is actively pursuing development of these agreements with Indian tribes and NHOs. Known benefits to both parties include transparency, increased efficiency, increased understanding and these serve as a basis for additional partnerships. In addition to these agreements, Indian tribes also engage into the Prototype Programmatic Agreements described elsewhere on this webpage.
TRIBAL ANCESTRAL LANDS CONSULTATION (TALC) WORKGROUP
The NRCS strives to promote the identification and preservation of historic properties of religious and cultural significance to Indian tribes regardless of their location. In an effort to educate their staff nationwide, the NRCS has initiated the Tribal Ancestral Lands Consultation (TALC) workgroup. This group is comprised of NRCS staff, Indian tribes, the National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers (NATHPO) and the ACHP.
Taking into account an undertaking’s effect on sites of religious and cultural significance can be a particularly challenging task when a tribe has relocated or has been removed from their ancestral lands. In many cases these tribes are located several states away from where they originally resided.
The TALC workgroup is developing training for NRCS staff that will aid them in working more effectively with Indian tribes as they look to identify sites of religious and cultural significance within an Indian tribe’s ancestral lands. Research is identifying previous hurdles and successes associated with the consultation and identification process. This workgroup intends on producing several resources to aid NRCS staff in this process including:
- A Handbook that reviews current consultation requirements regarding sites of religious and cultural significance on ancestral, aboriginal, or ceded lands. Relevant statutes, regulations, NRCS policy, and other provisions will be identified and explained.
- A Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) list. These FAQs will explore some of the more common questions associated with this process in more depth for the NRCS staff.
- A Tribal Contacts attachment. This guide will list several resources available for NRCS staff as they look to contact Indian tribes around the nation.
- An Affiliated Tribes guide. This attachment lists several resources available to NRCS staff that can assist them in identifying which tribes to contact. Current databases, websites, and suggestions are included to guide NRCS staff.
- A future product includes the development of a webinar that will become part of the NRCS staff training requirements. The webinar will incorporate select components of the handbook and attachments.
TALC Products presented at the 8th annual NATHPO conference:
DISASTERS AND EMERGENCIES
The NRCS has various policy and procedural reference and guidance in place to consider cultural resources affected by emergency work in the Emergency Watershed Protection Program or as lead agency in accordance with the Unified Federal Environmental and Historic Preservation Review (UFR) Process for Disaster Recovery Projects. Preservation of human life and property shall be the primary concern and focus of the emergency measures while taking into account the effects on cultural resources to the fullest extent practicable.
Where FEMA or its designee is the lead, NRCS (USDA) works under the Memorandum of Understanding Establishing the Unified Federal Environmental and Historic Preservation Review (UFR) Process for Disaster Recovery Projects. If the NRCS State office has not developed specific procedures for responding to exigencies, the NRCS can:
- Follow the UFR Guidance for Environmental and Historic Preservation Practitioners (July 29, 2014) issued by the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Service (DHS, FEMA), the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP);
- Unless specific procedures have been established for responding to disasters and emergencies, the NRCS follows 36 CFR Part 800 and its policies and procedures to comply with Section 106. For further guidance please see the ACHP’s guidance, "Role of Section 106 in Disaster Response - Frequently Asked Questions."
- NRCS shall notify the SHPO/NHO/Indian tribe immediately or within 48 hours of the emergency determination, following the NRCS’ Emergency Watershed Program (EWP) final rule (see Section 216, P.L. 81-516 Final Rule, 7 CFR Part 624 (April 2005).
As an agency the NRCS has several programs that address emergency response. Frequently, Section 106 undertakings associated with disasters or emergencies involve NRCS grant and/or assistance. Refer to these links for additional information.
NRCS TRIBAL LIAISON PROGRAM
NRCS has been working with Indian Country for a quarter century. In 1980, NRCS opened their doors to tribal lands, providing programs and technical services. Currently the NRCS has 45 full-time and 30 part-time field offices on Indian lands and approximately 220 NRCS tribal liaisons serving 567 federally recognized tribes. To date, the Secretary of Agriculture has entered into mutual agreements with 31 Tribal Conservation Districts, including one in Alaska.
The commitment NRCS has to Indian country, and the volume of field offices and tribal liaisons staffed by the NRCS, provides a great opportunity for tribal values and cultural resource management to interact. In addition to the invaluable assistance tribal liaisons play in assisting NRCS Cultural Resource personnel, the liaisons are regularly engaging Indian tribes in the pursuit of providing grant funds and technical assistance to tribal members. For more information on NRCS Tribal Liaisons see the information below.
- Tribal Assistance — NRCS website
- Barry A. Hamilton, National Tribal Relations Liaison Officer, USDA NRCS, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW, Room 6007-S, Washington, DC 20250, Office Phone (202) 260-8540, FAX Number (202) 260-9158, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
ACHP TOOLS AND GUIDANCE
January 12, 2017